So, one of the many organizational things I did on my sabbatical a few weeks ago was go through all of the books in the house and thin them out. We took three very big laundry baskets of books to Powell's to sell — they took about half of them, and the rest went to Goodwill. And what that meant was extra shelf space. But not as much as you might think.
Because waiting on flat surfaces everywhere around the house were stacks of new books that had no real homes. They were on the top of the entertainment center. The bottom of the coffee table. Both wooden chair seats in my studio. The sideboard. The table in the guest room. The floor on my side of the bed. All of these places held rogue stacks of books that had been purchased or received since the last time the bookshelves were thinned, about two years ago. So whatever space was made on the shelves was quickly filled by the gathered volumes from pretty much every room of the house. Which had been driving me absolutely insane. And when I had them all in their places, I heaved an enormous sigh, and felt like I could finally read again.
This is a huge shelf, and it came home with me when we closed our shop, Ella Posie, in 2006. I didn't have energy to repaint it then, so it remains this warm pink (I don't know what the name of the paint color is). I tacked up a little vintage plastic shelf edging I'd had sitting around forever. We drilled holes for the cords in the back of the top shelf and added two little lamps on dimmer switches up there. And this sweet little horsie is my beloved Clara May, made for me by sweet Anna. Clara May is guarding my summer reads.
A couple of months ago, I asked for some book recommendations, and got them. I took the list and, pretty randomly, I must say, picked out a whole slew, and added a few titles that I'd just had my eye on for a while. So now, in the past two months, I have finished six of the titles, and am halfway through three more. Here's my report card:
Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart. Loved it. Lovely. English houses, mysterious parentages, a little bit of romance, summer countryside descriptions, missing documents, a lonely narrator. This was the perfect book to read on a blanket under the shade of a tree in the Shakespeare Garden (which is where I read it). Good one.
Thornyhold by Mary Stewart. Loved it. Very similar to Rose Cottage in some ways — similar protagonist (and by the way if you love Daphne duMaurier's Rebecca you will probably love these) — but more mystery, a little bit of witchcraft, weird villagers, an inherited cottage, a cool neighbor-kid, more romance, animal companions. I thought there was something so poignant about the narrator Gilly's revelation:
"Possibly the most surprising thing about the day was the discovery that I enjoyed housework. My parents' house, the vicarage, had of course not belonged to us, but in any case "helping mother" is not the same as working for oneself in one's own house. I had certainly been mistress of the house after her death, and tasted some satisfaction then, but never with this heady knowledge that the place, and all about it, was my own. It was, in fact, the first thing that I had ever really owned. Throughout my youth nothing had been mine; even my childhood's toys and books, the pictures and small ornaments from my bedroom, had been quietly removed and given away when I was from home, like the rabbit and the dog and all else I had thought to own. That the trivia of today are the treasures of tomorrow would not have occurred either to me or to my mother; I only knew that all the small things that make the landmarks of growing up had disappeared. I had come to Thornyhold almost empty-handed, the most dowerless of brides. And now this. . . .
"So for the rest of the day I cleaned my kitchen out, every cupboard, every shelf. Even pan was scoured, every piece of china washed. The curtains went into a tub to soak, and the mats went into the sunshine.
"By the time I was feeling really tired, and most things were back in place, it looked quite different. So good, in fact, that I went out and gathered a big bunch of asters and snapdragons from the tangled garden at the front of the house and put a vase of them on the window-sill. There was a clean cloth on the table; the cushion-covers from the Windsor chair and the old rocker were in the tub along with the curtains. They could go out tomorrow, and let us pray for a fair wind to dry them. . . .
"Tomorrow, I thought, the town and my shopping list, bank, food, telephone. The rest of the cleaning could wait. Till I expected company? With an odd lifting of the spirits, I realized that I did not need company. I had never been so happy in my life."
Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table by Ruth Reichl. Loved it. Read it in just a few days. Good.
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. Okay. I'm really sorry, Stephanie-Plum lovers — this book scared the crap out of me. I almost didn't finish it. I did laugh out loud several times at her descriptions of her clothes ("I showered and dressed in black spandex shorts and an oversized khaki T-shirt") but generally I was terrified by this book. I can see why people love these, but I'm afraid I'm too wimpy to read the next one. Is it just me?
Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. This I loved. Read it very quickly. It wasn't on the list but I stumbled upon it somehow and just thought it looked interesting. It's honest, straightforward, detailed, fascinating. It's not sugar-coated. It is a very real account of what life was like for one family in a small town (during the winter) and a few miles down the road on the farm (in the summer). I'm keeping this one. It was great.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. Well, I kinda liked it. I was super into it at first — it started out really strong for me. But then the mother and the contrivances sort of bogged it down a little bit. Eva Rice is a really nice writer with a lovely, languid style, and this book has gotten fabulous reviews, but I don't know. I was waiting for the plot to break out of itself, somehow. It's very controlled. I'm probably being hard on it, actually. I wanted to love it, but then I had to admit that because I liked it I also felt like I wanted to . . . shake it all out, loosen it up . . . so I could like it more. Give it a really hard shake and see what stayed.
So, there you go. Thanks again for all of these recommendations! I am having a great time with this list. There's something sort of relaxing about just plodding through it without worrying about what title will come next — it doesn't even matter. I'm just letting it all seep through. I've got three going at once right now: French Spirits by Jeffrey Greene, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, and The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson. Now if we could get a sunny day or two around here I'd like to head back to my tree and make some headway on these!